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19 Mar 21. Hicks: Governance Differences Between U.S., China Are in Sharp Focus. China is the pacing challenge for the U.S. military, and, in the past several decades and across multiple administrations, the economic security and governance differences between the United States and China have come into sharper focus, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks said today.
Hicks spoke virtually to the National War College’s Class of 2021 about the decisions and actions the Defense Department is taking to continue to sustain its technological innovation edge over military competitors.
“Beijing has demonstrated increased military confidence and a willingness to take risks, and it has adopted a more coercive and aggressive approach to the Indo-Pacific region,” Hicks said. China and its actions constitute a threat to regional peace and stability and to the rules-based international order on which U.S. security and prosperity and that of U.S. allies depend, she added.
President Joe Biden recently released his Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, which highlights China as increasing its assertiveness, Hicks said, adding that the interim guidance notes that Beijing is the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system.
The United States must be able to compete for the future of our way of life across all those dimensions, she said.
“For the U.S. military, that will often mean serving as a supporting player to diplomatic, economic and other soft power tools. But it will also require the U.S. to demonstrate the will and capability to credibly deter PRC [China’s] aggression,” the deputy secretary said.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said during his visit to Japan this week that the U.S. military, along with its allies and partners, must have the capability to outmatch China’s army, Hicks pointed out.
We must invest ourselves — not only financially, but also culturally — in major change if we are to exploit our advantages and close critical gaps to deter determined adversaries, she said.
The deputy secretary said she is confident the United States is poised to do so for a number of reasons:
First, in his message to the force, Austin made clear DOD is committed to both innovation and modernization. DOD will have a commitment to rapid experimentation, which provides the needed space to test and refine innovative operational concepts.
“On the path to disruption, learning happens partly through failure, but we will seek always to act with the trust of American taxpayers in mind and at reasonable risk,” Hicks said, adding that simply developing concepts and testing theories will not be enough.
DOD also will be committed to bridging the so-called valley of death, ensuring we actually feel needed capabilities in the force. Making room for new capabilities will require difficult choices, she noted.
“Where the nation’s security needs are no longer being met, DOD will work closely with Congress to phase out systems and approaches optimized for an earlier era,” she said, adding DOD also will be attentive to making adjustments in the incentives that drive how it invests, selects talent and innovates.
Second, Hicks said she is confident DOD can deter adversaries effectively because of the Biden administration’s commitment to strengthening what is perhaps the United States’ greatest asymmetric advantage: its alliances and partnerships.
“The ability of the United States to pursue common economic and security goals with other nations is the cornerstone of our success, which is why rivals are attempting actively to undermine trust in us,” she said.
Hicks emphasized that, particularly for the U.S. military, our defense relationships and the networks between and among them strengthen interoperability; generate common norms and respect for responsible international behavior across domains; and deepen the agility of our collective global posture.
Third, she said she and the secretary know that meeting the greatest challenges and advancing DOD’s priorities will require sustained senior-level attention to the levers that create lasting institutional change.
“Fundamental to our approach is the promotion of healthy civil military relations, which includes civilian control of U.S. defense and national security policy,” she said.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike recognize DOD must prioritize China as the pacing challenge for the United States, Hicks said.
DOD should be confident that it will continue to receive the support required to sustain its edge, she said. As the department begins the congressionally-mandated process of reviewing and revising its defense strategy, it must seek to ensure that it has the necessary resources, and that its military concepts and capabilities can deter and — if needed — win against the most-challenging rivals.
“We must not only succeed in the competition of ideas, but in the steadfastness of our execution,” Hicks said. (Source: US DoD)
19 Mar 21. Army Outlines Ambitious Schedule For Robots, Armor. The Army is testing the MPF light tank; evaluating concepts for the OMFV troop carrier; preparing for major tests of high-tech Robotic Combat Vehicles and workhorse Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicles in 2022; and will test a full battalion of 18 ERCA howitzers in 2023.
Despite flat budgets — at best — the Army’s moving out fast on five new types of armored vehicles – from variants of the venerable Bradley and Paladin, to a Bradley replacement and cutting-edge Robotic Combat Vehicles. Briefings at AUSA’s virtual Global Force Next conference this week made clear the pace and ambition of the effort, and we filled in the gaps with emails to our Army contacts to assemble this master schedule.
Robotic Combat Vehicles are potentially the most revolutionary new weapon, although they remain in an experimental phase: The Army’s still exploring the art of the possible and is far from launching a formal acquisition program. Currently, the vehicles are teleoperated, with one soldier driving by remote control and another controlling the sensors and weapons. But according to Maj. Gen. Richard Ross Coffman, the director of armor modernization at Army Futures Command , the objective is to make them more and more autonomous until one soldier can oversee a swarm of 12 robots, moving out ahead of the manned force as an unmanned, (relatively) expendable vanguard.
Alfred Grein, acting director of the Army’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC), laid out the current RCV schedule – and the pace is dizzying:
- QinetiQ delivered a quartet of seven-ton RCV-Light vehicles to the Army in November and December, Grein said. The Army then installed the government-developed RTK (Robotic Technology Kernel) autonomous driving software and shipped the robots to a test center at Texas A&M in January.
- Meanwhile, Textron has delivered a partially completed RCV-Medium – a 12-ton “Ripsaw” mini-tank with a 30 mm cannon – to GVSC for software integration, which Grein says has gone smoothly so far. The first full-up RCV-M will be delivered in April, the remaining three in May.
- In April, all eight RCVs – four Lights and four Mediums — will go to Camp Grayling, Michigan for initial tests as a networked combat formation, alongside four modified M113 tracked transports acting as surrogate RCV-Heavies and six modified M2 Bradleys (known as MET-Ds) serving as the manned control vehicles.
- The shake-out for this company-sized formation – 18 manned and unmanned vehicles altogether – will run through September.
- In November, the vehicles will go to Army Test & Evaluation Command (ATEC) for formal safety testing, which should run through May 2022.
- Then, in June 2022, the Army will begin RCV Soldier Operational Two at Fort Hood, Texas. (SOE-1 was this past summer). That will start with soldier training on the vehicles and work up through complex training exercises to live-fire drills, concluding in August 2022.
At that point, analysts will comb through all the technical data and soldier feedback to come up with recommendations for Army leaders. If all goes as the Army hopes, the service will give the go-ahead to buy and deploy Robotic Combat Vehicles.
The Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle will replace the Reagan-era M2 Bradley as the Army’s Infantry Fighting Vehicle, a heavily armed and armored troop carrier. But as “optionally manned” implies, OMFV will also draw heavily on the autonomy technology being developed for the Robotic Combat Vehicles, from computer assistance for the two-man crew to a self-driving mode for select missions.
After an initial, overly narrow vision of OMFV elicited only one bidder, the Army rebooted the program and is urging all comers to offer out-of-the-box ideas, from mini-tanks carrying a handful of soldiers to landships carrying 30 infantry in back.
“Given the very broad requirement,” said Brig. Gen. Glenn Dean, Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat Systems, “there are a number of innovative partnerships being formed. I can’t go into the details of what we know, and all that’s not even official until bids come in…. but what we’re hearing is there are a lot of very good ideas that push the envelope.”
- Those bids are due next month, but it’s crucial to understand the Army is only asking for concepts at this stage, not complete designs, and certainly not drivable vehicles. The Army’s deferred detailed design – and a lot of the bureaucratic paperwork – till later in the program. “There is a Request For Proposals on the street now,” Dean told the AUSA conference. “Proposals will come in in mid-April, and we’ll put [the winners] on contract, up to five of them, in the July timeframe, to develop concepts that will shape the Bradley replacement.”
- Concept development work will take place over two years. Then, in early 2023, the Army plans to pick up to three companies to finalize their designs and build a dozen full-up prototypes apiece for testing.
- The following year, in late 2024, OMFV will move out of the streamlined Middle-Tier Acquisition process and become a full-fledge acquisition Program Of Record.
- The final winner will be picked in 2027 and enter production, with the aim of fielding the first full battalion of OMFVs in 2029.
The Robotic Combat Vehicle and Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle are pushing the cutting edge, especially in automation. The other three major armored modernization programs are less technologically ambitious – but the Army’s taken that as an opportunity to push them all as fast: There are already full-up prototypes of all three.
The Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) vehicle is essentially a light tank, meant to be easily deployed by aircraft – potentially even by parachute – and able to cross rickety Third World bridges. The idea is to go where the massive M1 Abrams main battle tank cannot in support of paratroops and other light infantry that normally lack heavy firepower. (The idea is definitely not to engage enemy heavy tanks head-on: MPF won’t have the armor protection for that).
- Back in 2018, the Army picked two competitors to build MPF : BAE Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems. The two designs are very different – for one thing, BAE’s is much smaller, with a lighter gun – which gives the Army an interesting and consequential choice.
- Both BAE and GDLS now have prototype vehicles in “developmental test at Aberdeen [Proving Ground] right now,” Dean told the AUSA conference.
- Multiple prototypes of both were also supposed to be at Fort Bragg in January to start a hands-on checkout by the troops, known as a Soldier Vehicle Assessment. But only one manufacturer made that deadline. The Army won’t say which, but we know from our earlier reporting it was General Dynamics, while BAE’s machines were delayed by COVID. According to Dean, there are still only one manufacturer’s prototypes on-hand at Fort Bliss (which must be GD’s), while the other set (which must be BAE’s) will start arriving “later this year.”
- Later this year, the Soldier Vehicle Assessment will wrap up and be followed by a formal Limited User Test, overseen by the Army Test & Evaluation Command.
- ATEC’s grade, in turn, will be a major factor in the formal source selection process in 2022. “By next summer, we should have selected a winner,” Dean said, with production and fielding to start thereafter. The Army has said it wants 504 MPF vehicles for a total life-cycle cost of $16bn, but sales to foreign militaries and the Marines are also likely.
COVID has also delayed production of another BAE war machine, the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle to replace the Vietnam-era workhorse, the M113. Quality control has also been an issue on AMPV, Dean acknowledged, in large part because US factories haven’t built large numbers of new armored hulls in decades: Most of the current fleet, while extensively upgraded, was initially built in the 1980s and 1990s.
- BAE was the only bidder in the AMPV competition, offering a turretless variant of its M2 Bradley that could be configured as a general-purpose transport, an armored ambulance, a mobile surgery, a mobile command post, or a mortar carrier for fire support.
- After months of delays, “our production challenges are falling behind us; the last four months have resulted in consistent deliveries,” Dean said. “We have all the five variants of that platform in hand, in their production configurations and in production qualification testing, live-fire testing” – shots are already being fired – “and we’re building the inventory we’ll need.”
- Specifically, the Army needs 64 AMPVs on hand in November to conduct a brigade-sized Initial Operational Test starting in January 2022. If AMPV passes that test, it’ll be cleared for full-rate production.
Fifth, finally, and often forgotten in this context, the Army is developing a new Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) armored vehicle to replace the M109 Paladin howitzer. (Unlike the other four, ERCA is overseen by Army Futures Command’s artillery modernization team, not Coffman’s armor team).
Now, the M109 has been repeatedly upgraded over the decades since it entered service in 1962: The latest model, the M109A7, features an almost all-new hull using Bradley-derived automotive components. But the Army put so many upgrades in ERCA – a longer cannon in a reworked turret, firing new ammo with new propellant that at least double effective range – that it warranted a change in designation, to M1299.
(The ERCA howitzer vehicles will use the existing armored ammunition carriers, at least for now.)
- The first ERCA prototype was built at the Army’s own Picatinny Arsenal and has already fired its gun in wargames, participating in last fall’s Project Convergence. In April, said artillery modernization director Brig. Gen. John Raffery, leadership of the effort will formally be handed over from Army Futures Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center to the acquisition Program Manager for Self-Propelled Artillery.
- This year, the Army needs to test hopefully-final versions of key components, including the formula for the explosive propellant (in layperson’s terms, the gunpowder).
- Then the Army will build at least another 17 ERCA prototypes to equip a full battalion (of 18 howitzers) for a “year-long operational assessment” starting in late 2023.
- Meanwhile, an innovative Army project is working on new ways to feed the ERCA with ammo much faster. That’ll include an automated loader so the crew don’t get worn out manhandling heavy shells. The Army hopes this upgrade will be ready by 2025.
Overall, it’s an ambitious, multi-pronged campaign to overhaul most of the Army’s armored vehicles — a campaign whose success, or indeed survival, will depend very much on the budget wars already underway.
(Source: glstrade.com/Breaking Defense.com)
19 Mar 21. Improvements to Organic Industrial Base Prepare Services for Future Fight. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps are all putting significant effort into improving their portions of the organic industrial base — that Defense Department-owned collection of depots, arsenals, shipyards and ammunition plants that repair and maintain military weapons systems, as well as some specialized ammunition.
While the commercial defense industrial base builds most of the weapons systems and gear for the military, the organic industrial base is often responsible for ensuring those systems stay maintained and operational for the decades that they stay in service. It’s for that reason that the military services are all focused on modernizing their organic industrial base to keep it strong and ready for the future.
“The Army and our OIB must modernize for the future,” said Army Lt. Gen. Duane A. Gamble, deputy chief of staff, G-4, during a hearing today before the House Appropriations Subcommittee. “As I testified to this committee before, we have World War II-era facilities, and many of them are outdated for today’s requirement, let alone for the needs of the future force.”
The Army has spent more than $3bn since 2009 to upgrade its facilities and infrastructure and operating environment, Gamble said. Included there, he said, is a new nitrocellulose facility at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant in Virginia.
The Army is also working on a new nitric acid facility at Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee.
“Both create a safer and more productive environment for our employees and for readiness,” Gamble said. “In FY21 alone, we’re executing $800m to make essential improvements and upgrades to our depots, arsenals and ammo plants.”
Gamble said the Army does have a ways to go before its OIB is fully modernized, however.
“We are actively working to that end state, and we’re executing the plan that I briefed this committee on in November 2019,” he said. “While we execute that plan we continue to update the plan to … keep pace with modern technology. And as we modernize our Army, we must ensure we modernize the OIB and the workforce and that the workforce is highly trained and on the cutting edge of technology.”
Right now, he told lawmakers that the workforce at Army industrial base facilities is, on average, 46 years old.
“That is a rejuvenated workforce just in the last few years, and the authority we used to do that was granted by this committee — the direct hiring authority that we put to good use bringing the average age of the workforce down,” he said. “Those 22,000 skilled employees operating across our depots, arsenals and ammo plants are absolutely the backbone of our country’s readiness for the next war and our OIB.”
For the Navy, both ship and aircraft maintenance facilities are a focus.
Navy Vice Adm. William J. Galinis, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command told the committee the Navy has been executing its Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program, or SIOP, since 2018 now.
“The SIOP will deliver the shipyards our Navy and our nation needs by upgrading and expanding … our dry dock capacity, but also optimizing and improving our infrastructure and workflow within the shipyard, as well as recapitalizing obsolete equipment,” he said.
When that program is finished, he said, Navy shipyards will be ready to take care of the submarines and aircraft carriers for generations. Galinis said more work still needs to be done, however.
“I will tell you in no uncertain terms, we need now to expand the productive capacity of our naval shipyards, or we run the risk of not being able to perform the required maintenance and repair work for our nuclear powered fleet, principally our submarines and aircraft carriers, a decade from now,” Galinis said.
To accomplish that, Galinis said, the Naval Sea Systems Command has looked to what’s being done at Naval Air Systems Command with its Naval Sustainment System-Aviation program and created its own Naval Sustainment System-Shipyard program.
“NSS-shipyard combines the extensive use of data and data analytics,” he said. “It targets areas of opportunity with transparency to highlight key problems to improve our outcomes. We’re committed to doing this with a sense of urgency across our enterprise.”
Navy Vice Adm. Dean G. Peters, commander of Naval Air Systems Command, said the Navy is continuing to prioritize investments in industrial capabilities and capacity.
“This is informed by the fleet readiness centers infrastructure optimization report, or FIOP, and that identifies sustainment requirements,” he said. “It identifies capital investments for machinery and equipment and military construction needs.”
Peters said those investments are important to ensure repair of newer Navy aircraft, such as the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, the H-53K helicopter and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
“They require specialized paint, composite repair, advanced propulsion repair and enhanced security,” he said.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Donald E. Kirkland, commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center, told lawmakers the Air Force has invested more than $2bn during the previous four fiscal years to maintain and improve its depot infrastructure and equipment.
“As detailed in our organic industrial base report, we’re structuring our optimization plan over the next 20 years along a three-pronged investment strategy: keep up, catch up, and leap ahead,” he said.
Since 2019, he said, the Air Force organic industrial base has brought in the first KC-46 Pegasus refueling aircraft for depot maintenance at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, and is also expanding F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Aircraft depot maintenance at its Ogden Air Logistics Complex in Utah, as well as F-35 avionics repair at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex in Georgia.
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Shrader, commanding general of the Marine Corps Logistics Command, said a key component of organic industrial base modernization for the Marine Corps, has been recent Defense Department-driven tests of 5G capabilities at Marine Corps depots.
“As a DOD-selected 5G test site, we are working with OSD to develop 5G-enabled smart warehouse technologies — such as handheld scanners, optical character recognition, passive RFID and robotics,” he said. “This state-of-the-art technology vastly improves our supply chain efficiency, auditability and support to the fleet marine force.” (Source: US DoD)
19 Mar 21. The US Navy’s shaky plan to save its shipyards is getting overhauled. The U.S. Navy is reworking its tenuous plan to revitalize its public shipyards, where the fleet’s nuclear maintenance is done, as it has become clear that the facilities can’t meet the needs of the current fleet, let alone accommodate a growing fleet.
The head of Naval Sea Systems Command, Vice Adm. Bill Galinis told the House Armed Services Committee readiness subcommittee that the Navy is studying how much money it would need to accelerate its ongoing 20-year, $21bn plan to recapitalize its four public shipyards by five or ten years.
To go faster and meet the needs of a growing fleet, the Navy is trying to determine how to juggle ship maintenance and repair work with renovations of aging dry docks and equipment associated with its Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Plan, or SIOP. That may require extra funding, Galinis said.
Arguing that lengthy ship repairs and maintenance backlogs are straining the fleet, Virginia Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, who serves as vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and other lawmakers pressed the Navy on ways to improve, including expanding the use of private shipyards to supplement work at government-owned dry docks.
In response, Galinis said the Navy had all the laws required to fix the situation, but said he needed more money.
“I said I did not need any additional authorities, I did not say I didn’t need any additional resources,” Galinis said in an exchange.
Questions about the Navy’s 2018 SIOP surfaced almost immediately when it became apparent that the Navy’s $21bn plan’s price tag was at best a rough guess.
Last year, the Heritage Foundation’s Maiya Clark released a report detailing the extent of the issues with the plan, not least of which is that it if everything went perfectly it would still not sufficiently expand shipyard capacity to service even today’s fleet, let alone a fleet with a growing number of nuclear-powered attack submarines.
“The SIOP is based on the current nuclear fleet, but it does not quite even meet the requirements of the current fleet,” the report read. “(It would make up for 67 of 68 missed maintenance availabilities, the missed availability being a submarine deactivation.) While this would be a massive improvement for the shipyards, it leaves little margin for unscheduled emergent work and does not allow for a potentially larger or different nuclear fleet in the future.”
In his testimony, Galinis acknowledged that the Navy would need to expand its infrastructure and lean more heavily on the private sector to accommodate the growing submarine force structure. In the meantime, the Navy is “taking a hard look” at which work can be outsourced to private machine shops as a way to increase capacity, Galinis told House Seapower Subcommittee Chair Joe Courtney, D-Conn.
“I applaud the fact that NAVSEA is going that route,” Courtney said.
Taking stock of dry docks
Lawmakers with big ship maintenance interests in their districts have been keenly interested in the Navy’s shipyard revitalization plans.
Earlier this week, Washington Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, led a letter urging President Joe Biden to prioritize funding for SIOP in his upcoming budget and in future years, as the plan transitions from the research and planning stages into execution.
Readiness Subcommittee Chair John Garamendi, D-Calif., helped secure a $90m funding line for SIOP in the defense policy bill Congress passed in December. On Friday, he wanted to know if the public shipyards would be sufficiently modernized to maintain future platforms like Columbia-class submarine, due to enter service in 2031.
“I am concerned that the Navy will not dedicate the necessary resources to prioritize this effort and that a 20-year time horizon is too long to support a changing fleet,” Garamendi said of SIOP.
In her report, Clark noted that many of the Navy’s dry docks are not suitable for the task of even maintaining the current fleet. For example, many dry docks that can currently service the Los Angeles-class attack submarines are wholly inadequate for the newest class.
“The Navy’s attack submarines have also evolved, but the dry docks that service them have not: 17 dry docks can service older Los Angeles-class submarines, but only 12 can accommodate their replacement, the Virginia-class submarine, and only seven can service the newest Block V Virginia-class submarine, which is 83 feet longer than earlier variants and displaces an additional 2,400 tons,” the report reads.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday in December acknowledged the dry dock shortfalls and said that that the Navy considers the SIOP effort a “high priority,” adding that the service plans to invest nearly $1bn in military construction dollars per year across the four shipyards.
“These dry docks on average, as you know, are over 100 years old and we’ve neglected them for too long,” he said. “And this is a strategic decision by the department to make this a priority and put the money where we need to, or we can’t sustain the fleet of the future. As you know, we’re challenged to sustain the fleet that we have now.”
(Source: Defense News)
19 Mar 21. Pentagon, Intel partner to make more US microchips for military. The Pentagon’s top research arm and Silicon Valley giant Intel will work together to increase domestic production of secure microchips used widely in defense systems.
The partnership announced Thursday by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency addresses concerns about the long-term consequences of the country’s lack of microchip production. The U.S. relies largely on Taiwan for microelectronics manufacturing, prompting fears that China may tamper with chips for weapons and other critical defense platforms.
The announcement dovetails with a global semiconductor chip shortage that led the Biden administration to commitment of $37bn to speed production in the U.S.
DARPA will pay an undisclosed sum to Intel to help boost production, and the total cost will be “tens of millions” for the program titled Structured Array Hardware for Automatically Realized Applications, or SAHARA, an agency spokesperson said.
DARPA and Intel will work with researchers at the universities of Florida, Maryland and Texas A&M to automate processes to boost production of a type of chip — structured application-specific integrated circuits — that allows unique security features, performs better and consumers less powers. Those features make them “an efficient and effective alternative for defense electronic systems,” the DARPA announcement said.
With the researchers, Intel will develop new ways to protect data against reverse engineering and counterfeiting attacks. The researcher “will use rigorous verification, validation and new attack strategies to test the security of these chips,” an Intel statement said.
Today, the military widely uses a different kind of integrated circuits — field-programmable gate array chips — that can be programmed for different applications. The project seeks to speed up conversion of those chips to the application-specific circuits that the Pentagon would prefer to use.
Automating the conversion process would “shorten the design process, reduce associated engineering costs, and enhance chip security,” the DARPA news release said. The project aims to reduce design time by 60 percent, decease engineering costs ten-fold, and halve power consumption, Serge Leef, program manager in DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office, said in the statement. (Source: Defense News)
19 Mar 21. This could be Army Futures Command’s moment of truth. The top U.S. military officer in the Pacific, Adm. Phil Davidson, warned last week that China could undertake a military attack against Taiwan within the next six years. To convince Beijing that it cannot achieve its political objectives in Taiwan or elsewhere with military force, the Pentagon is sprinting to transform ongoing research and development programs into fielded combat capabilities as quickly as possible.
If the U.S. Army is going to do that successfully, Army Futures Command must overcome persistent challenges that have plagued several of the service’s high-profile acquisition programs in the past. In a discussion this week hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Military and Political Power, leaders of three of AFC’s most important cross-functional teams pointed to significant initial progress in advancing much-needed R&D programs.
But R&D programs won’t be enough. Retired Lt. Gen. Ed Cardon led the task force in 2017 that helped create AFC. As he said during the FDD event: “Research and development programs will not deter and defeat aggression. Fielded combat capabilities do.”
AFC was created in 2018 to do just that: develop modernized combat capabilities and field them to soldiers as quickly as possible. And AFC will demonstrate in the next few years whether it can fulfill the vital mission it was created to accomplish.
A review of history underscores both the causes of the current crisis and the ongoing challenges.
Following the 9/11 terror attacks, successive administrations and congresses failed to provide the Army the timely, sufficient and predictable funding necessary to simultaneously conduct operations, maintain readiness and modernize forces.
Meanwhile, the People’s Republic of China was undertaking the most significant military modernization effort in its history.
By February 2017, then-Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn warned that the Army had “prioritized our near-term readiness to the detriment of equipment modernization and infrastructure upgrades, assuming risk and mortgaging our future readiness.” Eyeing China and Russia, he told Congress the “Army requires modernized equipment to win decisively, but today we are outranged, outgunned and outdated.”
To be clear, not all of the Army’s current capability shortfalls can be blamed on insufficient funding. In recent decades, Army acquisition failures cost billions of dollars. Some examples include the RAH-66 Comanche helicopter, the Future Combat Systems and the Crusader self-propelled howitzer. Among other mistakes, the Army often established requirements too early and without sufficient knowledge of the relevant technology’s maturity and timeline. Like other services, the Army sometimes pursued programs that were excessively complex and technologically unproven.
Exacerbating the Army’s modernization challenge, the next few years will likely see the service forced to make do with top-line budgets that are flat or even declining. That will put a premium on avoiding the acquisition failures of the past and demonstrating serious stewardship of the taxpayer resources Congress provides.
Thankfully, AFC appears to have learned the right lessons. As Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, director of AFC’s Long Range Precision Fires Cross-Functional Team, said during the FDD event, the Army must make “every day and every dollar count.”
That is easier said than done, but AFC appears to be off to a good start. AFC says major acquisition programs that previously took up to 14 years to field are now on track to take only four years. Brig. Gen. Brian Gibson, director of the Air and Missile Defense CFT, says the Army designed, prototyped and tested a short-range air defense capability within 18 months. The first maneuver battalion will be fielded this year.
Mr. Willie Nelson, director of the Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT)/Space CFT, said his team wrote a requirement for a mounted assured PNT system, prototyped it and then equipped initial units with the capability in 18 months.
In roughly that same amount of time, the Long Range Precision Fires CFT has helped develop the Precision Strike Missile. It will be able to strike targets — including maritime and moving ones — at ranges of 500 kilometers and beyond. Rafferty says the PrSM can be fielded by 2023. That will be good news for Adm. Davidson: He told Congress last week that ground-based, long-range precision fires are “critically important.”
So what is AFC’s secret so far? It begins with a clear goal of rapidly fielding new combat capabilities in the next few years.
To accomplish that goal, AFC is successfully using flexible acquisition authorities provided by Congress. The command and its eight CFTs have also adopted a soldier-focused, prototype-driven acquisition approach that incorporates feedback from the field and leverages middle-tier acquisition processes and nontraditional other transaction authorities. Where possible, the CFTs are baselining new capabilities from mature technologies, and then incrementally developing new capabilities.
If AFC continues these practices, it may be able to avoid past failures and convert promising R&D programs into fielded combat capabilities that America’s service members urgently need to deter potential aggression from Beijing.
AFC’s moment of truth has arrived, and the stakes for American security could not be higher.
Bradley Bowman serves as senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation of Defense of Democracies. Maj. Jared Thompson is a visiting military analyst at the center and a U.S. Air Force acquisitions officer. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Defense Department or the U.S. Air Force. (Source: glstrade.com/Defense News)
19 Mar 21. In India, Austin Looks for Ways to Increase Cooperation With Allies. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a stop in New Delhi today.
The secretary also met with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
Austin commended the Indian leaders on their growing roles in the Indo-Pacific region and the growing engagement they have with like-minded partners across the region to promote shared goals.
The stop in India continues the Biden-Harris administration’s outreach to revitalize ties with partners and allies. India is a “major defense partner” — a unique designation. India is the third country Austin has visited on his first overseas trip. He met with Japanese officials March 15-16 and South Korean leaders March 17-18. On his way to India, Austin also spoke with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
Tomorrow, the secretary will meet with Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and Minister of External Affairs, J. Shankar.
The purpose of this stop in India is consistent with the themes of the overall trip, which are focused on building U.S. partnerships across the region and operationalizing the defense partnership the U.S. has with India, a senior defense official said.
The defense partnership has grown over the years. In 2008, there was no defense trade between the United States and India. Last year, India bought $20bn in defense capabilities from the United States, the official said.
The partnership is based on a convergence of strategic interests that the U.S. has with India. “We’re increasingly looking at how we can build on the U.S.-India partnership with other like-minded partners,” the official said. “It’s how we can network and build our partnerships with India and with other partners, whether it’s in the Indian Ocean or in the Pacific Ocean.”
Multinational actions are key to this. “The secretary is looking to … to reinforce the partnership that we have with India and to encourage India’s leading role in security across the Indo-Pacific region,” the official said.
DOD also wants to advance interoperability with Indian forces and look for ways to work together. The convergence of ideas includes freedom of navigation, freedom of commerce and the peaceful resolution of disputes. These converging strategic interests are the basis for cooperation, the official said.
India is open to cooperating with the United States and others. India recently participated in the Malabar exercises with Japan, Australia and the U.S., and they have participated in the Rim of the Pacific exercises. “So whether it’s your information-sharing on maritime domain awareness in the Indian Ocean region or looking at maritime security or potentially even building partner-capacity across the Indo-Pacific region, that’s how you network, and that’s how you build,” the official said. “You are helping to pool resources and help to distribute … the burden — it helps to lighten the load for everybody to carry,” the official said. (Source: US DoD)
18 Mar 21. Estimated development costs for the F-35′s modernization program increased by $1.9bn in a year. The estimated development costs for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s ongoing modernization program grew by $1.9bn since 2019, and the effort is expected to extend though 2027, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a new March 18 report.
Over the course of the F-35′s Block 4 modernization program, which officially began in 2018, the Pentagon will upgrade the Lockheed Martin-produced jet’s hardware and software, adding new weapons capabilities and computing systems.
But due to challenges in developing and testing some of those new technologies, as well as continued schedule delays, the U.S. Defense Department’s most recent estimate in 2020 shows that Block 4 development is now projected to reach $14.4bn, the GAO said.
Meanwhile, the modernization effort — which was initially expected to wrap up in 2026 — is now scheduled to conclude one year later, though the GAO noted that the schedule is based on “estimates formulated at the start of the Block 4 effort” and not Lockheed’s demonstrated performance. Therefore, it is possible “the scheduled 2027 completion date is not achievable,” the watchdog stated.
The GAO listed a number of reasons for the $1.9bn in cost growth. A cost increase for flight tests resulted in an additional $705m charge; overhead and administrative costs ballooned by $471m; and the cost of a new training lab added $336m. A package of computing system upgrades, known as Technology Refresh 3, experienced a $296m cost increase.
The news of the cost increases comes weeks after Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown acknowledged the service is conducting a tactical aircraft study to explore whether it should buy fewer F-35s. Currently, the U.S. Air Force is the F-35′s largest customer, with 1,763 F-35As included in the service’s program of record.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., indicated his own frustration with F-35 program costs during a March 5 event where he said the nation should “stop throwing money down that particular rathole.”
In a statement, F-35 program executive Lt. Gen. Eric Fick said the government continues to make progress on Block 4. “Program risks still exist, but are well understood and actively managed,” he said.
The Pentagon previously issued a seven-year cost estimate for the Block 4 effort, claiming in 2018 that the program would cost $10.6 billion from fiscal 2018 to fiscal 2024. The department did not provide data on fiscal 2025 to fiscal 2026, when the program was originally slated to end.
The new $14.4bn cost estimate covers all years associated with the program, including Block 4-related costs dating back as far as FY13. “However, over half of the increase since we reported last year — $1.9bn — is net cost growth within various aspects of the Block 4 development program” and cannot be attributed to prior years’ costs or planned expenses during fiscal 2025 to fiscal 2026, the GAO said. (Source: Defense News)
18 Mar 21. Will Biden Curb Trump-Era Surge In Arms Sales? US arms exports grew 15 percent, to more than a third of the global market, driven largely by a surge in Mideastern buying – but Biden is reviewing major sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Israeli sources say Russia is moving to try and fill any potential gaps in Mideast arms sales left by President Biden’s pause on major sales to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The Biden administration’s emphasis on human rights and collateral damage, after four years of the Trump Administration’s unrelenting push for bigger deals, could impact the long American dominance in the regional arms bazaar, for good or ill.
Earlier this month, Moscow’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, made a four-day visit to the Gulf States, meeting with heads of state in both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as Qatar. Israeli sources say the timing was perfect to push for Russian arms sales and to signal that, while the US begins talking about thinning its footprint in the region, Russia remains heavily committed – including militarily, in Syria – and wants to play a major role in mediating between Iran and its Gulf State adversaries.
Coincidentally, just after Lavrov’s whirlwind tour, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute issued an unusual long-term look at trends in arms sales over the last ten years. SIPRI delved deep into its authoritative database and compared the period 2011-2015, the last four years of the Obama administration – with the period 2016-2020 – the Trump years. Worldwide, arms sales in aggregate stayed roughly flat, but countries’ shares of total imports and exports shifted significantly, in some cases dramatically – driven not just by policy in Washington but by regional trends and tensions.
Under trump, arms imports by government’s in the Middle East grew 25 percent while sales to other regions of the world declined, with some individual countries reporting staggering growth: 61 percent for Saudi Arabia, 136 percent for Egypt, 361 percent for Qatar. (By contrast, Turkish imports plunged 59 percent, driven in large part by its Trump-era explosion from the F-35 program). So dominant are Mideastern buyers overall that they collectively account for almost half – 47 percent – of all US arms sales.
The USA remained the world’s No. 1 arms exporter but grew even more dominant, with sales growing 15 percent, from just under a third of the global market during 2011-2015 to 37 percent of it in 2016-2020. Other US allies grew their sales by much larger percentages, although they remained much smaller in absolute terms: Germany’s arms sales rose 21 percent to 5.5 percent of the global total, France’s rose 44 percent to 8.2 percent of the global total, Israel’s rose 59 percent to 3.0 percent of the global total, and South Korea’s rose a staggering 210 percent, but still to only 2.7 percent of the global total.
Meanwhile sales by America’s great-power adversaries slipped: China’s arms exports fell by 7.8 percent by just over 5 percent of the global total, Russia’s by a whopping 22 percent to 20 percent of the global total. (China also remains a major importer of Russian tech, particularly jet engines). In Russia’s case particularly, the issue was a steep decline in sales to India – although the US lost sales as well – driven by the notoriously neutral nation’s desire for self-sufficiency in arms and its infamously bureaucratic procurement process. Russia did gain sales in the rapidly growing Mideastern market, but not enough to offset its losses in India. Israel, for its part, has increased its sales with India and its co-developing some weapons programs like the ship-launched Barak-8 missile.
Tal Inbar, an Israeli military analyst, told Breaking Defense that most of the Russian weapon systems are not combat-proven the way US alternatives are. “If we look at their military aircraft,” both manned and unmanned, “it is obvious that they have not reached the level of the American ones,” he said. “The only clear advantage they achieved is in the development of hypersonic missiles, but these are not in the Gulf states shopping list.”
But, Inbar added, Russia offers its weapons for much lower prices than the US does, in part because things are often cheaper to make in Russia, in part as a strategic ploy to strengthen relations. “Weapon sales to different countries give the Russians a much stronger foot hold in these countries, in the form of ports , air fields and other infrastructure projects,” he said. (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
17 Mar 21. US Army chief says end strength will stay flat in upcoming budgets. The U.S. Army chief of staff has said that if the budget top line in future years either stays the same or decreases, he doesn’t see the service’s end strength dropping, but he also doesn’t see it growing.
“When it comes to what chiefs have to grapple with in a budget, it’s end strength and structure, it’s readiness, and it’s modernization. Those are the three kind of big resource buckets we have,” Gen. James McConville said at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Next symposium, held virtually March 16.
“On the end strength and structure, I don’t see us growing at the rate I would like to grow in the end strength. In fact, we are probably going to flatten out end strength where we are right now,” he added.
The troop count is about 486,000 in the active force and a little more than a million in the total force, which McConville noted is the same size force the Army had on 9/11.
“We don’t want to make it any smaller,” he said. “I would like to make it bigger, but what we have to do is prioritize, and I’ve got to make sure the Army is ready to fight today.”
The service wants to grow the force to more than 500,000 active-duty soldiers by 2028, with a current plan of adding 1,000-1,500 soldiers per year. But it appears unlikely the flat budgets expected in the near future will be enough for the service to both grow the force and modernize it.
The Army is taking a hard look at readiness, McConville said, and that includes looking for ways to effectively train the forces using less money. One step the service has taken involves focusing on training smaller units, which is less expensive, he explained.
“So if you get more readiness out of doing small unit-level training and then your combat training centers to get the higher level of training, we might be able to be more efficient with the money that we spend on readiness,” he said.
Army leaders have been adamant they will not use modernization as the bill payer for readiness again, which it has historically done, because the need to transform the force has become too critical and many of the modernization efforts are already deep into development and prototyping efforts.
“I believe that we must modernize the Army,” McConville said. “Every 40 years the Army needs to transform. It did in 1940, it did in 1980 and we’re in 2020 right now. I think I owe it to my successors that I have the Army on a good path to transformation, and we will see many of the systems we’re talking about getting fielded in 2023.”
If the Army takes deeper cuts, it could mean some modernization priorities take a hit to save the most critical future capabilities in development.
“I believe we’ll look at continuing to fully resource-selected, [cross-functional team] efforts that are deemed especially critical even under a significant top-line reduction,” Lt. Gen. James Pasquarette, the Army’s G-8 chief, said last fall. Cross-functional teams manage each of the service’s top modernization priorities under Army Futures Command, the four-star command set up a few years ago to modernize the force.
Pasquarette said he couldn’t share what those critical programs would be, adding that at this point, Army leadership doesn’t know. But Army Futures Command chief Gen. Mike Murray “will be intimately, personally involved” in a review of priorities “if it gets to that point with the Army leadership. I’m the guy that has some thoughts and recommendations, who would adjust the resources in response to those decisions,” Pasquarette said.
The Army has already gone through two and a half years of deep budget scrubs through its “night court” process, which seeks to find funding areas in the budget that don’t align with the National Defense Strategy and the service’s modernization efforts, and move those dollars into accounts that meet service priorities. In the Army’s first night court, the chief, secretary, vice chief and undersecretary presided over decisions — big and small, easy and tough — for roughly 600 programs, shifting $33bn from programs across the fiscal 2020 through fiscal 2024 five-year plan.
In FY20, the Army invested $8.6bn in modernization efforts and, across the next five years, is investing a total of $57bn, a 137 percent increase from the previous year’s five-year plan.
The Army found another 80 programs or so to scale back or cancel to free up funding in FY21, but service leadership has admitted it’s getting harder to find low-hanging fruit in the process. (Source: Defense News)
16 Mar 21. New strategy sets up Army to operate in increasingly relevant Arctic. The Army released a new strategy on how to operate in the Arctic, one that would set up headquarters and units capable of working across all domains and establish a stronger foothold in the region.
The goal is for the strategy to serve as a way to preserve national interests, project power globally and defend the homeland.
The strategy was posted to the Army’s website March 16 directly after the Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville wrapped up his keynote speech at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Next virtual conference.
McConville had teased the strategy in January at an AUSA engagement.
The service developed the strategy because of the growing relevance of the Arctic and the increased threat in the region as U.S. adversaries such as Russia and China continue to lay ever-increasing claims on northern territory and waterways due to economic interests.
“Many of our competitors are focused on the Arctic and also many of our allies and partners have been concerned about that competition,” McConville said.
The strategy’s goal is for the service to be “able to rapidly generate and project Multi-Domain forces globally that are specifically trained, equipped, and sustained to fight, win and survive in extreme cold weather and rugged mountainous conditions over extended periods.”
The Army plans to use its forces in the region “to project power from, within, and into the Arctic to conduct and sustain extended operations in competition, crisis, and conflict from a position of advantage,” according to the strategy.
The force posture will “defend the homeland and pose dilemmas for great power competitors” and will strengthen relationships with allies and partners “to maintain regional stability,” the strategy read.
Multidomain Task Force in Alaska
More specifically, the Army wants to establish a Multidomain Task Force (MDTF) unit in Alaska, including a division headquarters with “specially trained and equipped combat brigades to recapture our cold-weather dominance,” the document stated.
”The Army’s decision to place an MDTF in Alaska is the first step in setting the conditions for success,” the strategy stated. There the unit would have access to world-class training facilities and the presence of the Air Force and Navy.
“Multidomain formations, particularly those with extended ranges such as the Multi-Domain Task Force (MDTF), have clear potential in the Arctic — an area of operations characterized by vast distances and where air and naval avenues of approach are critical,” the strategy noted.
And units have “significant potential to create anti-access/area denial challenges for competitors,” according to the document.
The unit would also help the military to experiment and advance Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control that would support multidomain operations.
The MDTF stationed in Alaska would “experiment in delivery of tactical to strategic effects in the region,” the strategy read, and provide opportunities to test the Army’s modernization priority capabilities performance in extreme environments while examining operational concepts specific to the Arctic.
The unit would be able to review the ability of space capabilities to support operations within a unique and challenging electromagnetic spectrum, the strategy said.
However, reaching the service’s full potential in the Arctic is easier said than done. The region has three combatant command claiming areas of responsibility; network integration is difficult in the extreme cold, there is high latitude and limited commercial infrastructure; and major logistical challenges exist because of the Arctic’s inhospitable nature, the strategy noted.
For an MDTF unit to work it will require the formations to “converge their effects with the rest of the joint force and allies and partners,” the document stated. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
16 Mar 21. Top Pentagon research arm combats ‘aggressive’ foreign investors. The Pentagon’s lead innovation office expanded its business accelerator to compete against “aggressive” foreign investment possibly tied to unfriendly governments and instead is courting U.S. investors to push its desired products to market.
The goal for the accelerator, established by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is to move 150 technologies out of the lab and into the marketplace over the next five years. The effort is part of an expansion of DARPA’s Embedded Entrepreneurship Initiative pilot program that helped raise more than $100m for 30 research teams.
Connecting DARPA-backed innovations with U.S. investors protects against the technology reaching adversarial nations. Kacy Gerst, DARPA’s chief of commercial strategy, told C4ISRNET that the program is an “effective counter against aggressive foreign investors that has been ramping up in the past five years in targeting early-stage research teams.”
“In some cases, foreign capital is inextricably bound to foreign governments and militaries that are working at cross purposes to the United States and its allies,” Gerst said. “Through this effort, DARPA seeks to retain the nation’s strategic and economic advantage against near-peer competitors, as well as to ensure supply chain security for critical products and supplies.”
The DARPA accelerator gives research teams an average of $250,000 to hire an entrepreneurial expert to connect them with U.S. investors. The adviser stays with a team for one to two years. Though $250,000 doesn’t sound like much in comparison to multimillion or multibillion defense programs, that funding is vital to connecting critical futuristic technologies with U.S. investors, Gerst said.
“We’ve found that foreign investors are often talking to our researchers when they’re still in the university or in the lab before they’ve even spun something out and offering really compelling terms very early on,” she said.
Through its initial pilot, DARPA worked with several companies on projects for a range of issues — from COVID-19 to blood sampling. One business, named Embody, develops medical devices and therapeutics for tendon and ligament injuries, common injuries for military members. It received FDA approval for a surgical graft to mend soft tissues that resulted from DARPA-backed research.
The money from DARPA was transformative for Embody, according to CEO Jeff Conroy. He told C4ISRNET that his company had partnered with DARPA for several years, but used the funding it received largely for product development. Receiving money dedicated to business development boosted the company to the market.
“I was able to hire a commercial [-focused] person probably a year before I would have typically,” Conroy said. “That has really made a big difference, starting to think like a company that’s going to launch a product 18 months before the pilot is cleared, instead of six months before the product is cleared, really put us in position to get a fast start.”
Through the accelerator, research teams have access to commercialization mentors and DARPA’s Transition Working Group, which includes more than 100 U.S. investors and corporations seasoned in scaling and supply chain development. The DARPA initiative is bolstered by a new partnership with In-Q-Tel, the intelligence community’s venture capital firm, which will provide additional investor expertise.
One significant challenge DARPA faces is that its research funding goes to “really highly technical scientists and engineers” who have little experience connecting lab developments with interested companies, securing licensing agreements or forming startup companies, Gerst said. Additionally, U.S. investors scrutinize business plans far more closely than foreign investors, which offer more compelling terms to researchers quicker, Gerst said. Conroy noted that Embody “constantly” fielded inquiries from foreign investors.
“Our research teams that have difficulty raising funding from U.S. investors that are really scrutinizing whether they have a strong business and business team and whether they can make a return off of that investment,” Gerst said. “Our researchers weren’t having a difficult time raising funding from foreign investors who more so want to get access to the IP [intellectual property].”
Gerst noted that the effort is successful because the technologies are being developed “in parallel” with the entrepreneurial work, allowing the company to adjust products to fit the business case.
“What we’re learning through this entrepreneurial effort impacts the design of the technology, and makes it a lot more relevant to the end market,” Gerst said.
DARPA program managers nominate research teams that would benefit from the additional entrepreneurial support. For Embody, that decision gave the company a clear path to market for a product to help with military injuries.
“We were an early-stage company that would be challenged to attract investment at scale in the early stages,” Conroy said, adding that the company expects the first 50 surgeries using its device this quarter.
(Source: Defense News Early Bird/C4ISR & Networks)
16 Mar 21. Navy’s New Unmanned Plan Short on Specifics, But Big On Ambition. “There is an underlying commitment to move as fast as you can… because the pacing threat is constantly moving and accelerating,” said Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
A new Navy document offers a broad outline for developing and fielding new generations of unmanned platforms, while refusing tie the service to any one capability, platform, timeline, or budget.
Next month, the Navy will also kick off a major exercise of the California coast to begin working through how to operate unmanned vessels and crewed ships together, putting a Zumwalt destroyer in the water to act as a testbed for the effort.
Overall, the unclassified version of the Unmanned Campaign Framework underscores the need to work with the defense industry, academia, and other services to build new systems that can operate autonomously and across the joint force, but “unmanned systems in themselves aren’t a goal,” Vice Adm. Jim Kilby, head of the Navy’s Warfighting Requirements and Capabilities office, told reporters in a Tuesday conference call.
The goal instead is to develop capabilities that can work across a multitude of platforms — while not tying the Navy, which has endured a dismal track record of building new classes of ships, to any one new vessel.
Kilby said that there is still a lot of analysis, design, and prototyping work to go before the Navy will actually deploy new unmanned vessels, but neither he or the document spelled out how long that might take, or what it will look like.
“There’s experimentation, there’s work by [the Office of Naval Research] and other entities to point us in the right direction,” he said. “What our campaign analysis has told us is this manned and unmanned teaming” — i.e. between sailors and robotics — “is a powerful makeup to align to future force architecture based on what our adversaries are doing.”
In a statement, Rep. Rob Wittman, Vice Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee underscored some of the Congressional uneasiness over the navy’s plans, given high-profile problems with the Littoral Combat Ships, Zumwalt destroyers, and Ford-class aircraft carriers, all of which have been plagued by massive cost overruns and have yet to provide much to the fleet years after they were scheduled to be a big part of the new Navy.
While it’s “exciting to see this process underway,” Whitman said about the new framework, “we must focus on getting this right rather than doing this too quickly.” Whitman reminded Navy leaders that “we have been here before, rushing into the full development and production of a promising new platform too soon. It always proves a costly mistake, and we cannot afford to make that same mistake again.”
It’s not clear how quickly the Navy plans to move on these efforts, though Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, said “there is an underlying commitment to move as fast as you can, as fast as you feasibly, acceptably, supportively, can move because the pacing threat is constantly moving and accelerating, so we feel the proverbial hot breath on our neck to move as rapidly as possible.”
Smith added that the Marines are working with the Army on its Project Convergence effort, which is looking to build a network to tie sensors and weapons systems together and eventually plug into the Pentagon’s wider JADC2 program to bring all the services together on one data-sharing network.
That network will also include the Navy’s Project Overmatch, the service’s push to develop a command and control network that will eventually integrate into JADC2, as well.
“We’re working off of joint force operating scenarios and a joint warfighting concept,” Smith said. “We’re not developing things that we as a service think are good, we’re developing things that we as the Joint Force Maritime Component Command know are required to support the joint force.” (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
16 Mar 21. Defense Department Successfully Transitions New Technology to Programs of Record. The Department of Defense announced today that the multi-year Low-Cost Cruise Missile (LCCM) Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) project successfully transitioned three primary technologies to programs of record or development projects. The LCCM JCTD was initiated to advance a decentralized autonomy module for low-cost, conventional, collaborative cruise missiles; the integrated management team developed a new air vehicle and launcher, an autonomy software module, and a jam-resistant datalink.
The air vehicle, the Coyote Block III, was improved and the launcher was developed with Raytheon Missiles & Defense; the autonomy software module with the Georgia Tech Research Institute; and the datalink with L-3 Harris.
“This successful transition shows the great value of the JCTD program,” said Jon Lazar, acting director of prototypes & experiments. “By working closely with our industry partners and combatant command operators, we delivered needed capabilities that will enhance the warfighter’s ability to accomplish their missions.”
The Coyote Block III air vehicle is the baseline for numerous follow-on activities and programs within the Navy, Air Force, and Army. The autonomy module transitioned to the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Vanguard Program, Golden Horde, and will transition to the Marine Corps Long-Range Unmanned Surface Vehicle Program of Record and MITRE’s Simulation Experiments along with several Air Force and Navy spiral development programs. The jam-resistant datalink also transitioned to the Golden Horde program, along with several spiral development programs.
The JCTD office provided project oversight, and Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate (AFRL/RW) provided technical management and overall technology integration. Flight tests and operational demonstrations were flown in 2018 and 2019 at the Yuma Test Proving Grounds, Arizona. In the final operational demonstration in 2020, multiple cruise missiles were pneumatically launched in a matter of minutes. The swarm of LCCM vehicles then dynamically reacted to a prioritized threat environment while conducting collaborative target identification and allocation along with synchronized attacks. The LCCM project also enabled significant improvement in understanding the relationship between communications and autonomy in collaborative vehicles.
The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering is responsible for the research, development, and prototyping activities across the Department of Defense. OUSD(R&E) fosters technological dominance across the DoD ensuring the unquestioned superiority of the American joint force. (Source: US DoD)
15 Mar 21. U.S. Air Force leaders faced a dilemma. The service needed a key raw material from Italy for one of its critical nuclear modernization programs. But in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, as industrial facilities shut down and transit between nations slowed, it was unclear how the material could reach the United States.
Air Force officials were so worried that they eventually authorized military aircraft to fly to Italy to pick up the remaining supply in person, averting an interruption in one of the nation’s most strategic weapons programs.
According to Will Roper, who led Air Force acquisition efforts under the Trump administration, the ordeal was one example of when the Pentagon had to make a “worst-case scenario call” to protect the U.S. military’s technological edge as COVID-19 threatened the defense-industrial base. This sense of urgency would prove common over the next year.
As the pandemic spread, the reality of having a global supply chain that featured a number of small, sole-source suppliers, as well as an aging industrial workforce, collided into a calamity — one that threatened to irreparably damage the American defense industry.
“I had moments in March, getting up at 3 o’clock in the morning and wondering what crisis was going to happen that day,” Roper said. “Just wondering, would we be able to keep the industrial base solvent to support military readiness and modernization?”
The chaos arrived quickly: On March 4, 2020, the only impact the novel coronavirus had on the American defense industry was temporary shutdowns at F-35 production sites in Japan and Italy. But nine days later, the pandemic was widespread enough in the U.S. that President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency. And by March 25, the U.S. military officially suspended all travel, deployments and exercises as it tried to get a handle on the disease.
A year into the pandemic, a Defense News review tried to measure its toll on the defense industry. The full scope of damage is complex and still coming into focus, but a broad outline is becoming clear. Among the findings:
- Early in the pandemic, Pentagon leaders worried about the health of the industrial base and program timelines. However, the largest firms have rebounded, and the biggest projects are mostly on track. In the past year, at least half of the Pentagon’s major defense acquisition programs experienced some kind of delay as a result of COVID-19. Programs were able to recover, often in a matter of months following nearly $5bn in federal aid and efforts to push money more quickly to suppliers. Pentagon leaders have not listed all of the specific programs which have faced delays.
- Smaller companies — already imperiled before the pandemic — are still struggling, with as many as 1 in 7 believing they will never return to pre-pandemic levels.
- Industry invested roughly $10bn to reconfigure production lines and build infrastructure for remote working, costs that if not addressed by Congress could become amortized over time and potentially lead to overall per unit price increases.
- Finally, quantifying the human toll on the workforce is nearly impossible. The Pentagon has not tracked deaths in the defense industry, and only two companies Defense News contacted acknowledged employee deaths from the pandemic. BAE Systems said it mourned the losses of “several” employees, while Boeing said that “unfortunately some of our Boeing teammates and their family members have tragically lost their lives due to the virus.” Neither company disclosed overall figures. In addition, local reports have identified deaths from other companies, including Lockheed Martin. With an aging workforce making up much of what the National Defense Industrial Association trade group counts as 1.1 million defense-industrial base workers, the total number of deaths is likely larger.
“COVID-19 was horrible, but it could have been a lot worse. And if it had been, I don’t think we would have been ready for it,” Roper said. “The worse, second sin that we could commit is to not learn anything from the first pandemic and not get prepared for the next one.”
The initial response to COVID-19 from the defense industry was to slam the brakes.
Textron Aviation furloughed 7,000 workers on March 18; Boeing paused production at its Seattle, Washington, facility on March 23; around the same time, CAE instituted mandatory pay cuts and temporary layoffs, with the company’s CEO declaring the financial impact on commercial aviation would be worse than after 9/11.
The situation looked dire, but a year later, prime contractors told Defense News that the industry has largely returned to business as normal. Our staff asked the United States’ largest defense contractors — including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon Technologies, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, Huntington Ingalls Industries and General Dynamics — how they each fared over the last 12 months. (L3Harris Technologies declined to comment.)
None provided detailed rundowns of how many programs were delayed by the pandemic or what pandemic-related financial losses entailed, with spokespeople instead discussing any lingering impact in broad terms.
Raytheon, for instance, has not “experienced any long-term challenges meeting customer requirements” and felt only “minimal” disruptions to its work at the start of the pandemic. Huntington Ingalls Industries, the nation’s largest shipbuilder, acknowledged “impacts on both cost and schedule” for some programs, but said it would be “inappropriate” for the company to make those public. And Northrop Grumman continued to “deliver for our customers and execute on our programs.”
BAE, which offered more specifics, said it experienced “some delays” in procurement on both the industry side and from the government in terms of delayed requests for proposals.
As a result, the company countered by ramping up production rates on certain programs, per a spokesperson. That includes “more than doubling our overall monthly combat vehicle production over the course of the year. The pandemic timing was particularly challenging for our earlier, [low-rate initial production] phase programs, such as [the Army’s Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle] as we were producing the first production vehicles. Despite the supply chain impacts of COVID, we successfully delivered at least one vehicle of each of the five AMPV variants to the Army by the end of 2020.”
Ellen Lord, who served as undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment — the Pentagon’s top official on industry — during the crisis, described a “triage” effort by the armed services’ acquisition officials to focus attention on key programs that could not afford any delays, such as nuclear modernization and shipbuilding. The latter was a particular concern, she said, because of the close-quarter requirements for workers building a submarine or aircraft carrier.
For the Air Force, this effort was led by Maj. Gen. Cameron Holt, the service’s deputy assistant secretary for contracting. Roper, his civilian boss, charged Holt with starting a task force aimed at minimizing the pandemic’s impact on the defense industry while working with agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency on COVID-19 relief.
“The ultimate dropping of the ball would have been losing companies that were needed for readiness,” Roper said. “And I really felt like COVID was just as much about sending a signal to adversaries that no domestic crisis can disrupt military readiness.”
As the virus traveled the country, the Air Force tracked 43 major companies and their supply chains — spread across sectors that included aviation, space, shipbuilding and soldier systems — that were “threatened” by work stoppages or more existential concerns that could put vendors at risk of going out of business, Holt said.
Overall, the Pentagon injected $4.6bn into the defense-industrial base between the start of the pandemic and Jan. 31, 2021, according to Department of Defense spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell. That included roughly $4bn in increased progress payments, $73.2m in reimbursements for industry and $700m in funds from the Defense Production Act, she said. That legislation provides presidential authorities to expedite and expand the supply of materials and services from private industry for the purpose of national defense.
Some acquisition efforts began suffering delays. According to department figures provided to Defense News, between June 2020 and February 2021, a monthly average of 40 programs experienced delays related to COVID-19, with a median impact of two months.
“Of the 54 programs that had a delay and have now recovered, 20 were granted schedule relief. Most relief was for three or more months,” Maxwell said in a statement. “The average delay experienced was about two months, which could take several months to recover for any given program.”
Overall, there have been 48 major defense acquisition programs, or MDAPs, that suffered from pandemic-related delays. Of those, 22 MDAPs continue to experience delays, Maxwell said. Some of the delays were reported at the time: For several weeks in March and April, Boeing halted work at its Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Seattle-area facilities, pausing production of the KC-46 tanker, P-8 maritime aircraft, V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft, H-47 cargo helicopter and MH-139 helicopter. And due to slowdowns within its global supply chain, Lockheed Martin ultimately fell short of delivering 141 F-35 fighter jets in 2021, delivering only 120 planes after having to decelerate its production line.
Despite those delays, the defense industry is overall doing fine, said Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha Partners.
“Financially, it’s great. Companies have positive cash flow and no company suffered major trauma,” Callan said. “There are a lot of congratulations to go around for the department and industry for managing this thing. Within its own little environment of defense contracting, things went very well.”
The major contractors are “swimming in excess cash” thanks to a mix of government efforts, including increased progress payments and payroll tax deferrals under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, added analyst Jim McAleese, of McAleese and Associates.
Small business survival
Discussions with the major contractors led defense leaders to focus their attention toward smaller suppliers. That group had been identified through a series of Pentagon reports as fragile and, for some critical components, nearly nonexistent.
“We would have major primes calling about somebody, you know, four or five levels down in the supply chain who were shutting down or were devastated for one reason or the other,” Lord told Defense News in a recent interview. “And what we found was that a lot of the issue was just pure cash flow and not being able to deliver, therefore not being able to get paid, therefore not be able to order their supplies and so forth.”
As a result, on March 23, 2020, the Pentagon announced it was increasing progress payment rates for defense items under contract from 80 percent of cost to 90 percent for large businesses, and from 90 percent to 95 percent for small businesses — essentially flooding cash into the industry by paying for more of a project upfront.
In both private and public settings, Lord then pressured the primes not to keep the extra cash on hand but to push it down to suppliers to keep lower-tier producers open. Had the DoD not acted quickly, “we would have seen a lot” of lower-tier suppliers go out of business, she said. Lord, like Roper, left the Pentagon when the Biden administration took over Jan. 20.
On the Air Force side, Holt’s task force accelerated $3.9bn worth of progress payments and contract awards in the early months of the pandemic, hoping to push out money to defense primes and their suppliers to ensure companies could stay solvent.
One prime contractor that focused mostly on commercial work was “immediately put at risk,” Holt said. The unnamed company could not accept payments because of its commercial accounting system. The hundreds of companies that made up its supply base were in a similar boat, and although the prime was thought to have some liquidity that could cushion it from the worst effects of the pandemic, it was unclear how far it could spread its cash.
“Had we not done that and enabled a significant amount of advance payments and then [the] acceleration of contract awards, there would have been very severe impacts,” Holt said.
The Army also directed CARES Act funds to critical suppliers facing financial hardships, the service’s acquisition branch said in a statement.
One company, which manufactures organic light-emitting diode displays for aircraft and night vision devices, received stimulus money after the pandemic made it more difficult to procure required production equipment; the spread of the virus had caused cash-flow problems for the business.
Another company, which produces fabric for uniforms and body armor, received CARES Act funding after a downsized workforce caused a slowdown to production, the Army said.
But the focus on small businesses meant the Pentagon had to be on its guard for fly-by-night operations looking to cash in on money from the CARES Act.
“When you put, you know, a couple trillion dollars out there, the unfortunate reality is you get a lot of fraudulent companies and actually some adversary action where they’re really trying to get money for nothing,” Holt said.
In one instance, FEMA asked the Air Force task force’s market intelligence cell to conduct technical evaluations of companies who had responded to a wave of contract solicitations issued during the onset of the pandemic. The cell went a step further by vetting vendors.
“We avoided dozens, literally dozens of contractors that were literally just shells,” Holt said.
The cell also investigated a company that had emailed Air Force leadership about contracting opportunities. The business “looked very credible on the surface,” Holt said, but the cell found the firm was actually a shell company operated by an individual with an active arrest warrant, who is believed to be hiding in the Philippines.
A year into the pandemic, the vast majority of smaller suppliers are still operating. But there have been consequences.
In a survey, 70 percent of NDIA members — which includes a large proportion of small businesses — said last year that their bottom lines had been hurt by the pandemic. Nearly 13 percent said they believed their businesses would never return to the same level, and 30 percent thought their supplier network would be less reliable this year than last year.
“When I talk to our small businesses, the true impacts are continuing to be felt. We won’t have assessed the true impacts until later … when the cameras get turned off; attention’s not being paid,” said NDIA Senior Vice President for Policy Wesley Hallman. “Even a 13 percent shakeout in the defense-industrial base would be pretty large, especially because [NDIA’s research shows the] base is reliant on single producers in many cases.”
Those concerns were echoed in the fall when an official from the Defense Logistics Agency warned that the agency was seeing a decline in smaller suppliers taking part in defense contracts.
Large and small businesses that rely on both the commercial and defense markets were particularly damaged due to the dramatic reduction in passenger traffic, which has in turn hurt demand for aircraft and related parts. Consultancy firm Deloitte projects the defense side will remain stable, but travel demand won’t rebound to pre–pandemic levels before 2024, fueling a slow recovery for the commercial side.
“The fact is the defense and aerospace sector relies on some of those economies of scale to be able to produce and be profitable, and so as [commercial demand] has gone down, they see a lot of challenges to [retaining] the workforce,” Hallman said. “A lot of companies are holding on for dear life, knowing that there will be a requirement [for them]. But they have to make it through this drop period in commercial aerospace to get to that growth curve on the backside.”
The Defense Production Act is a longstanding, if fairly obscure, legal tool for the Defense Department to push money to vital suppliers. The DPA had already gained favor from key DoD and White House civilians who had begun using it to shore up targeted parts of the industrial base, following a landmark October 2018 report that warned of “domestic extinction” from sole-source suppliers.
Suddenly, the department found itself being tapped to use the DPA to flood the market with much-needed supplies, with the Air Force serving as the executive agent responsible for helping expedite the production of medical supplies and protective gear needed by the rest of the federal government.
One such incident occurred in late April, when the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services sought to increase the production of COVID-19 test swabs made by Puritan Medical Products, a small, family business based in Guilford, Maine. At the time, the company only had about 500 employees and one production facility, despite being the only approved swab manufacturer for certain tests.
“Puritan was faced with an enormous challenge,” Holt said. “They knew how to do what they did, [but] they had no idea how to reproduce their entire industrial capacity. They knew how to use their machines, but they had really no idea how and where to get new machines. And they didn’t have any experience in growing or rapidly scaling.”
Officials at the Air Force Research Laboratory quickly found one nearby defense company that might be able to help Puritan: General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, which builds Arleigh Burke-class destroyers for the Navy and had the ability to fabricate the machines Puritan needed at a new plant.
When Holt called up the Bath Iron Works leadership team, its members “were incredulous that the Air Force was even calling them because they never do business for the Air Force,” he said. They were also a little concerned about the scope of work, which involved engaging Bath Iron Works’ supply chain to stand up a new plant making nasal swabs as well as the company’s expertise with government contracts, he added.
An attendee of DX Korea 2020 stands in a sterilizer as a precaution against the novel coronavirus on Nov. 18, 2020. (Ahn Young-joon/AP)
“I told them I was going to make them a direct subcontractor to a small business two hours from them,” Holt said. “They asked me: ‘How much experience does Puritan have working in federal government contracts?’ I said: ‘Zero.’”
In early May, Puritan announced the opening of a second production facility in Pittsfield, Maine. Under a $75.5m contract, the company would produce an additional 20-40 million swabs per month at the second plant using machines made by Bath Iron Works to package the product.
“Within the next 90 days, they were over the capacity that we had targeted at full-rate [production],” Holt said. “We’ve expanded them several times since then, and today they’re actually standing up — under an Air Force contract — a new plant in Tennessee.”
Future strategy … and concerns
After a year of figuring out how to protect the industrial base, there are some clear lessons learned — and it’s important the Pentagon not forget them quickly, the former officials who spoke to Defense News all agreed.
“We adapt, which is a wonderful thing. But we need to pause and reflect and make sure we took note of what we learned we can do differently and better, and make sure we can memorialize that,” Lord said. “And to the degree possible, we now have that in policy and procedure.”
Under Section 3610 of the CARES act, the Pentagon gained authorities to reimburse companies for the work they did to keep their lines open. That includes everything from installing new secure facilities at industrial sites to cover for the fact government facilities were closed, to dramatic reworkings of the production plant floor in order to create 6 feet of space between workers.
However, Congress never appropriated funds for Section 3610, leaving industry to absorb the expenses, which were estimated by Lord to be about $10bn by the end of fiscal 2020.
And while the defense industry won’t collapse under that weight, adding those costs — and production delays, as a more spread-out line will be unable to produce as many tanks or planes as a more efficient design — could have long-term impacts on a program.
“I think that the largest question for the defense-industrial base right now is how to get those one-time costs taken care of so they are not, in the end, amortized over the next few years of production, driving all costs for services and parts up,” Lord said. “So all of a sudden, the money that has been appropriated isn’t going to get you 100 aircraft; it might get you 51 aircraft or something.”
Due to slowdowns within its global supply chain, Lockheed Martin ultimately fell short of delivering 141 F-35 jets in 2021, delivering only 120 planes after having to decelerate its production line. (Lockheed Martin)
The concern there, she explained, is that rising program costs as a result of the one-time investment puts programs at risk of a Nunn-McCurdy breach, triggered when a program goes over 15 percent from its current baseline, or 30 percent of its original baseline. That sets off administrative requirements and increased oversight from Congress.
“If we don’t take care of one-time, nonrecurring costs, it’s going to muddy the record in terms of understanding the true costs,” Lord warned.
While a $1.9trn COVID-19 relief bill, which Congress passed on March 10, extended Section 3610 authorities, industry remains concerned it will not be fully funded.
“There’s never been a funding line against 3610; it’s always been funds as available, and that’s less than optimal,” Hallman said.
Another issue, said Callan, is that defense stocks are starting to lag behind overall market growth. He credits that to investors who note that while the companies may be cash rich now, they will have to start competing for budget funding against transportation investment, recovery efforts and other priorities under the Biden administration.
If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, Lord said, it is that across government and industry there is a new push to have as much of the supply chain in the U.S. as possible, with a particular emphasis on sole-source suppliers — an area where the Pentagon could find itself cut off thanks to anything from a natural disaster to a human-made catastrophe. (That topic will likely be covered by the House Armed Services Committee’s new Defense Critical Supply Chain Task Force, which was created in March 2021.)
But she acknowledged that having two suppliers for everything isn’t a feasible requirement to drop on the defense industry, saying that “in a perfect world, yes, you would do that. However, the cost of that is very, very significant.”
Roper agreed that the Defense Department needs to reexamine whether it should push certain critical supply chains back into the United States, even if it comes at an added cost.
“Having domestic supply is a strategic strength,” Roper said. “And one that the department — the nation — needs to think about more critically, what it’s willing to trust overseas sources for. They may be trusted, but what happens if you don’t have access to them? And that’s something that we should not learn a second time. That lesson was learned during COVID-19.”
With the rollout and distribution of several vaccines finally in motion, the defense industry has likely survived the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Holt said. But new strains of the coronavirus or other illnesses could easily turn into another crisis — one that may be more deadly.
“As we look forward in time — I hate to say this — but I really think that we’re going to have to be much more prepared for this to happen again, in some way, whether it’s a coronavirus or some other medical contagion of some kind,” Holt said. “We haven’t seen the last of this.” (Source: Defense News)
15 Mar 21. US Army AI&SE Modernises Plans To Gather And Disseminate Intelligence. “The strategic environment has never been more complexed or harder to assess,” said Lieutenant General Laura A. Potter, deputy chief of Staff, G-2, US Army, during the virtual AUSA Noon Briefing on Wednesday 10 March.
While Russia and China remain as persistent challenges, Gen Potter stressed that China’s modernisation plans projected through the 20s, 30s and 40s would lead it to a position of strength as a world power. In addition, she said that extremism would remain as a long and enduring challenge.
Gen Potter added that many factors including the pandemic, climate change, natural disasters as well as transnational crime and information warfare (including cyber disinformation) was adding to the global fragility of some states: “Country’s we think are stable will trend towards fragility if we are not careful.”
The role the Army Intelligence & Security Enterprise (AI&SE) was to support the Army in “competition, crisis and conflict”, she said. The solution for this task was to build military intelligence (MI) teams that could operate across all disciplines and that could actively inform military decision makers in their own region, not just centrally.
The task ahead was huge: “Think of volumes of data [that will be generated] by 2035 and the speed of analysis [that would be required].” Machine learning would be needed to help analysts understand the vast quantity of data, much of it open source. She added that studies were being conducted with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency DARPA to develop a capability “to train algorithms that will change as the enemy’s tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) change.”
Working with ‘allies and partners’ would be important, and needed not only policies built on political agreements, but the technology to be able to securely share data. Personal interaction (HUMINT) was also needed to share information and build up trust (including building additional relationships outside those already established such as NATO and the Five Eyes (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States).
“The intelligence community must be embedded in ‘the competition space’ across all theatres,” stated Gen Potter. This would enable regional commanders to quickly gain situational understanding, absorb important indications and warnings of situational change, expand their own ‘competitive space’ when the opportunity arose, leading to improved decision dominance.
This picture is challenged when forces rotate into and out of each theatre of operations, but the MI picture should be managed “to make sure Army units can fall into theatre intelligence scenes; it is a multi-echelon approach but need to be in each operating space.”
To this end, Gen Potter stated that the AI&SE was “in the process of building divisional IEW battalions. This will give [each] commander the ability to holistically see across the intelligence and EW environments.”
Command and control that can be unified across all domain is something that all of the services are looking into, so that any response selected (from whichever source) in response to each requirement will be delivered for the best effect. “For this we need open architectures – bringing in systems that will take us into the 40s-60s” she stated. (Source: Armada)
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